…I asked my grandmother, “What did you do when you were a little girl, and didn’t have TV or radio? How did you play?” She told me odds and ends about the games she played …. Then she added, “…but in Ireland, my great-grandfather use to play music with the ice on a pond.”
We miss so much in life, things that are truly awe inspiring, like musical ice. You may have never actually heard it, or even heard of it. I’ve never heard it myself, but my grandmother, who also never heard it, told me a story when I was a boy, that she in turn had heard from her great-grandfather who lived in Ireland when he was a boy, and heard the music of pond ice every year, and even played with it.
For a few years my father, mother, sister, and I lived with my grandmother, so she wouldn’t be alone after my grandfather died. This living arrangement gave me a singular advantage over my cousins. I got to hear more stories of family history than they did. Because I lived with her, it meant I was there whenever she had a random memory, like we all have, or I could ask her questions whenever I had a random thought, which was all the time.
The subject came up when I asked my grandmother, “What did you do when you were a little girl, and didn’t have TV or radio? How did you play?” She told me odds and ends about the games she played and the hand-made toys and musical instruments she played with. Then she added, “…but in Ireland, my great-grandfather use to play music with the ice on a pond.”
I don’t know my grandmother’s great-grandfather’s name, but for this story I’ll call him David, because that’s an oft’ bestowed name in my family’s heritage.
This is what she told me:
“David lived on a farm. The farm had a mill pond, not too big, not too small. The pond was fed at one end by a year-round stream. At the other end was a stone-work dam. The dam even had a spill-gate for controlling the water level in the pond. When the pond froze over, and the ice was several inches thick, David played a game with it. I have no idea how he learned to play the game, but in my grandmother’s story it was an annual tradition.
David played two games with the ice, one called Flute, and the other called Bell. For Flute he would make sure there were no holes anywhere in the ice. Then he would drill a single hole in the ice at the stream-fed end of the pond. Next, he would open the flood-gate to allow a little more water to escape than was coming in from the stream. This caused the water level under the ice to drop, but because the ice was thick enough, it supported itself against the shore, as the water drained from beneath it. The only place for air to get in to fill the vacuum being created by the draining water was through the single hole David had drilled. The air whooshing in through that hole made a sound like a low musical note played on a flute, hence the name of the game. As the water level dropped more and more, the note got lower and lower. I guess the game could also be called Slide Whistle. The object of the game was to just listen, and see how long the note would last. When the tone got too low to hear, the game of Flute was over, and it was time to play Bell.
With the water no longer in contact with the underside of the ice, it left the frozen surface suspended in midair. David would toss small stones, or sticks onto the ice. Sometimes he would stomp his feet on the frozen surface near the edge. The ice would ring like a very low-toned bell. Being a drummer, I think of a kettle drum. When hit with a mallet, a kettle drum keeps “sounding” until it’s dampened, or the sound fades away. The object of Bell was to just listen to the music for as long as possible. The game usually ended when the ice cracked and collapsed into the water. But sometimes, if the ice was thick enough, it would crack without breaking, and by itself, even without stomping feet or the tossing of sticks and stones, it would continue to ring every time a new crack formed. Sometimes the effect would last for hours.”
I remember how thrilled I was to hear that story. I love how amazing it was that David could play in such a wonderful way. I am still thrilled remembering it, and so glad to have those memories.
But, such memories don’t have to be mine alone. The entire planet is filled with happenings just as wonderful as the music of a winter pond, occurring every minute of every day of every season in every corner of this amazing world. All you have to do is pay the tiniest bit of attention. – AB
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